Channel 4 News’s story that the Home Office made up a case study to push for the retention of the genetic profiles of innocent people is not surprising, because the Home Office’s support for the DNA database is shot through with dishonesty and underhand manoeuvring. Let’s not forget that the government is already in breach of a 2008judgment from the European court of human rights on this matter.
What is surprising is how second rate was the attempt to deceive the committee scrutinising the crime and security bill by Home Office minister David Hanson and his staff at the department. In a letter to the committee, Hanson set out five case studies to justify retention. A Conservative MP with a name from Trollope and an eye from Conan Doyle, James Brokenshire, noticed the first case study, involving a rape, bore a remarkable similarity to the fifth study Hanson had offered in evidence.
“Under questioning, the Home Office minister admitted that the two cases were one and the same,” reported Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News. When caught red-handed, the Home Office said that the duplication was the result of “an administrative error”. I’d like to know what that is if it isn’t a direct lie, because to repeat the details of the first case while composing the letter required a deliberate act of manipulation. Someone knew the evidence was falsified, even if it wasn’t Hanson.
Brokenshire was clearly sceptical. “The minister has clearly provided information that is fundamentally incorrect,” he said. “He’s saying it was an administrative error. Well, at the very least it says gross incompetence in the preparation of evidence on such a sensitive and significant issue as DNA retention and its use in serious crime. I think he’s got more answers to give in relation to this.”
Hanson’s response makes you realise that the basic standards expected of ministers and Home Office civil servants no longer exist. Instead of apologising and admitting the deception, he blusters that the “Tories are on the wrong side of the argument”. Then he attempts to justify retention as though his credibility was still intact. “We believe that the indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of all those convicted of crimes, and all juveniles convicted of serious offences together with the retention of the DNA profile of those who are arrested but not convicted for six years is an appropriate and proportionate approach based on the best available research.”
My problem with the Home Office – incidentally the subject of a revealing documentary by Michael Cockerell on BBC4 last night – is that on DNA, as with many areas where liberty and rights are affected, the policy seems to be coming from civil servants with an unyielding agenda. Their addiction to scooping up the DNA of innocent people is matched by a sense of ownership of people’s biological essence that’s seen the Home Office use the DNA database for unspecified scientific research and using DNA testing to “establish” the origin of people from the horn of Africa in the Human Provenance Project, which was condemned last year by the leading names of genetic science.
This episode shows that the state is not to be trusted. If Hanson and his team cannot admit to this simple-minded deceit then we cannot believe anything they say. This was not an administrative error.
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